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Copyright Infringement and Exceptions

Copyright Infringement and Exceptions


Copyright law protects people’s creative works. Using someone else’s copyrighted material without their permission can lead to a lawsuit for copyright infringement. However, the law recognizes several exceptions where people can use copyrighted material freely and without permission. You may be allowed to use copyrighted material if you use the material in a way that has a minimal economic impact on the creator if you use the material strictly for educational purposes, or if the copyright has expired and the material is in the public domain. This blog post will explain what copyright infringement is and what exceptions exist to allow people to use copyrighted material without permission.

Intellectual property law protects original ideas, works, and creations of people and organizations. Copyrights protect people’s original creative works and may be distinguished from trademarks, which protect words, phrases, symbols, designs, and other things that distinguish a good or service from those of competitors. Creative works that copyrights may protect include, but are not limited to, original music, paintings, photographs, poetry, and other things related to publishing, entertainment, or artwork. You can read about the difference between copyrights and trademarks in our blog post on the subject.

Owners of copyrights may file copyright infringement lawsuits against people who use their copyright without permission if the owner registers the copyright with the United States Copyright Office. Courts award damages to owners of copyrights if they prove someone’s unauthorized use of the copyright damaged the owner in some way. However, there are several exceptions that allow people to use copyrights without permission in certain circumstances.

The most common exception is for “fair use.” This exception allows people to use copyrighted material without permission if they use it for creative or educational purposes, if their use of the material has a minimal negative economic impact on the creator, or if they use only a very small amount of copyrighted material, among other things. Courts weigh several different factors to decide if something is protected by the fair use exception, but the bottom line is the use must be limited to be fair.

Exceptions also exist for educators in certain circumstances. The “face-to-face instruction” exemption allows educators to use copyrighted material if they do so for strictly educational purposes in face-to-face classes at certain accredited schools. Under the TEACH Act, educators can use copyrighted material in online classes if they use the material for educational purposes and keep the material secure, among other things.

Finally, you are always free to use copyrighted material once its copyright protections have expired. Copyrights do not last forever, and once a copyright expires the copyrighted material enters the “public domain,” where it is free for anyone to use. You cannot be sued for using material that has entered the public domain. Timelines vary, but you are definitely safe to use material published before 1923. An attorney can review your use of copyrighted material to see whether an exception applies.

If you have questions about using copyrighted material, contact McNeelyLaw today. Our experienced team of Indiana copyright attorneys can assist you with all of your business needs.

This McNeelyLaw LLP publication should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion of any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own lawyer on any specific legal questions you may have concerning your situation.

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